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Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

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Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

Why I had never before read a book by Ann Cleeves until this past summer I do not know. Sometime in the past year there was a rave review for the third in her Shetland Quartet mystery series - so I ordered the first, Raven Black, to see what it was like – and like it I did. I was slightly apprehensive when the book began with a man who may have killed a young girl many years in the past, and may be the killer of another, and may be stalking yet another. I am not a fan of novels where characters are stalked – but I stuck with it through that first scene and was into the beginning of a very good mystery novel.

The Shetland Quartet series takes place, of course, on Shetland, the largest of the Shetland Islands. Taking out my old Canadian Oxford School Atlas, at the cottage, I saw that the Shetland Islands are well north of Orkney – places I would love to visit one day. But not for the Up Helly Aa Day celebrations that are described in Raven Black.

Up Helly Aa is an island wide festival, featuring residents dressed in costume, the leader, the Jarl wearing a raven-winged helmet, ax and shield, with the “Vikings” following, dragging their leader to his doomed “Galley” which is then set ablaze. Then on to a long night of drinking and carousing. Not my idea of fun but obviously spectacular – and a great scene in the novel – the night on which yet another young girl goes missing.

But, back to the beginning. We find Magnus Tait in his cottage, over-looking the rural scene of Ravenswick, a hamlet near the town of Lerwick. It is New Years – Hogmanay – and two teenage girls, on a dare, knock on Magnus’ door late in the night. A few friendly drinks and a chat. The next day one is found dead in the snow. Magnus, who was thought to have taken and killed a young girl some years earlier, is the suspect again. It is the jurisdiction of Jimmy Perez, the local copper, but with a murder investigation the big guns are called in from the mainland as well. Jimmy is born and bred on the islands despite his foreign name. This reader liked him from the start – a nice man, doing a demanding job in a very insular community, not an easy task.

We learn more about the past case, the missing girl, and the present victim, an incomer, only recently enrolled in the local high school. The cast of characters, incomers and long time residents, are believable and there is any number of possible culprits if you discount Magnus. But should we discount Magnus? We are never sure what he knows and what he is capable of. Magnus is considered “slow” – which he may be, but we discover that he does not lack intelligence.

In 2006 this novel was the first winner of the prestigious Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award of the British Crime Writers’ Association, with the winner receiving the equivalent of about $40,000 - making it the world’s largest award for crime fiction. And well deserved I’d say.

As always it is difficult to review a mystery – I don’t want to spoil the suspense for the reader. I have to say I was completely taken by surprise by the end, which I like; it is no fun if you have figured it all out early on. I’m glad to know that there are three more in this series – I’m looking forward to reading them – and introducing other readers to this series.

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